Astrium Services Poised To Bulk Buy Ka-band Capacity from Inmarsat

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LE BOURGET, France — Astrium Services expects to sign a bulk-purchase agreement with mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat in July to secure Ka-band capacity aboard Inmarsat’s three Global Xpress mobile communications satellites, Astrium Services Chief Executive Evert Dudok said June 20.

The agreement will fill a gap in Astrium Services’ bandwidth services offer, which now includes Ku-band capacity leased from commercial fleet operators and Astrium’s own X-band capacity, which is reserved for government and military use and is commercialized on nine satellites.

Through its 2011 purchase of Vizada, Astrium Services is already London-based Inmarsat’s biggest reseller of L-band capacity, Inmarsat’s core service for links to ground, air and maritime fixed and mobile platforms.

But with Ka-band now taking hold both in Inmarsat’s heritage markets, and in Astrium’s core military customer base, the company agreed it needed a Ka-band beachhead, with Inmarsat the most likely source.

“We are Inmarsat’s largest reseller and we are going to commit to use a certain amount of Global Xpress,” Dudok said here during the Paris Air Show. He said the agreement with Inmarsat concerned civilian/commercial Ka-band, and not the military-frequency Ka-band that is also on board the Global Xpress satellites as part of what Inmarsat calls its High-Capacity Overlay.

The three Global Xpress satellites are scheduled for launch starting late this year and continuing through 2014. The satellites will be spaced to provide global coverage, with the exception of the polar regions.

Astrium, which is the space division of European aerospace conglomerate EADS, lost the competition to build the three Global Xpress satellites to Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif.

One of the reasons Boeing won the competition was its agreement to a take-or-pay contract with Inmarsat covering the High-Capacity Overlay capacity, which Boeing will be selling to the U.S. Defense Department and other government customers.

To facilitate its new business as a satellite bandwidth seller, Boeing created a new division, Boeing Commercial Satellite Services. In addition to selling the Global Xpress Ka-band, the Boeing services arm will be selling Inmarsat’s L-band as well.

Astrium Services owns the British Defence Ministry’s Skynet satellite fleet and operates them under a long-term services contract that enables Astrium to sell excess X-band capacity to other governments.

Commercial satellite fleet operator Telesat Canada’s recently launched Anik G1 telecommunications satellite carries an X-band payload that Telesat added on the assumption that it would find a buyer. Astrium Services agreed to purchase all the X-band capacity for the satellite’s full 15-year life.

With Anik G1 now operational since May at 107.3 degrees west, Astrium’s nine-satellite X-band fleet covers most of the world except for a slice of the Pacific Ocean.

With the Pacific Rim now a subject of greater U.S. military attention, Astrium Services is looking for a similar hosted-payload agreement to place X-band capacity on a satellite to be operated over the Pacific.

Dudok said the company is looking at several ways to fill the Pacific hole in its X-band portfolio, and that a hosted-payload deal is one possibility.

Including Anik G1, Astrium Services has 2.2 gigahertz of X-band capacity distributed over 75 transponders on nine satellites, Dudok said.  The customer base now totals 20 governments including the NATO alliance, which booked Skynet capacity as part of a long-term contract.

He said the company is looking to expand its X-band customer base to civil government agencies and is seeking approval from customer governments to do so.